6 Reason Why Kids Sext
By Kyle Roberts
Author’s note: For the purpose of these articles, we will define sexting as the sending and receiving of sexually explicit messages— text or images. We often think of sexting as primarily happening through text messaging on a cell phone. However, now these messages can be sent and received through apps, social media, or any medium that has a messaging option.
I remember working as a counselor at a junior high and hearing so many stories from my students. One in particular continues to stick out in my mind; it involves a 7th grader (13 years old) who was caught up in a sexting scandal. A friend’s older brother had gotten her number, and they were texting as most young people do. He was in 9th grade. Over time he encouraged her to send him more and more sexually explicit images and texts. She did, and the consequences were disastrous. He shared the pictures with his friends and they in turn with their friends. Soon enough, like a virtually transmitted disease, pictures and messages of her most intimate moments were on everyone’s phone.
When we hear stories like this several questions come to mind: Where were her parents? What was she thinking? Where did she learn that? Doesn’t she know better?
(Note: Why is the responsibility/blame always focused on the girl???)
Here are some of the reasons behind why adolescents sext:
1. Brain Development
Our brains develop in stages; it is often referred to as a front to back development. Development begins with the management of basic bodily functions such as heart rate and breathing and ends with the ability to process higher level thought such as risk taking and decision making. This higher level thought is developed in the prefrontal cortex. It takes until we are between the ages of 22-25 to have a fully mature brain (“Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving, and Decision Making”, 2011). Let me repeat 22-25! We make many major life decisions prior to having the intellectual capacity to process the possible outcomes of those decisions. I think we can all look back and remember some of those epic life choices—some ended well and others not so well.
Because the adolescent brain is immature, they can generally be classified as:
- clumsy/getting into accidents of all kinds
- acting on impulse
- misreading or misinterpreting boundaries, social norms, and emotions
- engaging in risky behavior
- having trouble processing consequences
Recognizing these traits can help parents understand why and how a young person can get caught up in sexting.
Sexting—like most of our virtual culture—has a level of anonymity, and some apps’ main goal is to connect you with a stranger. (Read about the most dangerous apps here.) When things are anonymous, we are more likely to engage in more risky behaviors—behaviors we otherwise wouldn’t participate in if we were having a face to face interaction. Our inhibitions are lowered because we have a belief that no one will find out; it is “our little secret.” Reality couldn’t be further from the truth. “17% of sexters share the messages they receive with others, and 55% of those share them with more than one person (“11 Facts about Sexting”).”
It is a wildly common and popular practice among adolescents. A study in 2014 claims that 54% of college aged students reported having participated in sexting before the age of 18. The researchers said, “We were shocked by the prevalence and the frequency of sexting among minors…” as previous studies reported much lower numbers (Hoder, 2014). Many teens reported saying that sexting was the new form of flirting. There has been an increase of mentions of sexting in movies and television shows. All of these factors combine to create an expectation to sext at some point.
We know the stats; something like 80% of teens have seen porn. Porn impacts our behaviors, leads to more risky sexual behaviors, and serves as a sexual template—creating within viewers a sense of sexual expectations. Beliefs that “all girls are easy,” or “‘no means yes” (among others) are pervasive in pornography (Laydon, 2010). The bottom line is viewing porn impacts our behaviors, one of which being a higher likelihood of sexting.
5. Looking for something
Humans engage in behaviors for specific reasons. The most common reason we do what we do is because it feels good or we hope to feel good. Sexting follows the same pattern. Think back to your adolescence. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, right? We all looked for any reason to feel good on any level, to be accepted, to be loved, to be wanted—none of that has changed. For some sexting fills a void they are hoping to fill. They long to be described as sexy or to be accepted (Lawrence, 2016).
6. “Safe Sex”
Many teens and tweens see sexting as the ‘safer’ alternative to having actual sex—all the fun without the risks, right? (Fathima, 2014). The opposite is actually true; studies have shown that young people who are sexters are MORE likely to have sex (Jaslow, 2012).
What Parents Can Do?
Talk with your child about family morals and expectations.
Have discussions with your kids about the consequences of sexting.
Establish rules for cell phone use—this works best when you work with your child. Ask them what they think is fair.
Educate yourself on the apps that are out there and what apps are on your child’s phone. Do a daily or weekly check in; review their texts and downloads.
Get a copy of How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography (available in English and Spanish) on Amazon here.
Check out our second article 8 Dangers of Sexting.
Kyle Roberts has over 10 years of experience working with non profit organizations. She received her masters degree in community counseling from the University of Texas At San Antonio with an emphasis in addiction recovery. When she isn’t wrestling with her little boy she can be found teaching developmental psychology at BYU-Idaho or working on some DIY projects.
Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving, and Decision Making. (2011, December). Retrieved April, 2016, from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/
11 Facts about Sexting. (n.d.). Retrieved April, 2016, from https://www.dosomething.org/
Hoder, R. (2014, July 3). Study Finds Most Teens Sext Before They’re 18. Retrieved April, 2016, from http://time.com/2948467/
Layden, M. A. (2010). Pornography and Violence: A New look at the Research. In J. Stoner and D. Hughes (Eds.) The Social Costs of Pornography: A Collection of Papers (pp. 57–68). Princeton, NJ: Witherspoon Institute; Carroll, J. S., Padilla-Walker, L. M., and Nelson, L. J. (2008). Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults. Journal of Adolescent Research 23, 1: 6–30; Haggstrom-Nordin, E., Tyden, T., and Hanson, U. (2005). Associations between Pornography Consumption and Sexual Practices among Adolescents in Sweden. International Journal of STD & AIDS 16, 2: 102–7; Wingood, G. M., et al. (2001). Exposure to X-Rated Movies and Adolescents’ Sexual and Contraceptive-Related Attitudes and Behaviors. Pediatrics 107, 5: 1116–19.
Lawrence, J. (2016, March 26). How sexting is creating a safe space for curious millennials | Electronic Frontiers Australia. Retrieved April, 2016, from https://www.efa.org.au/2016/
Fathima, A. K. (2014, July 01). Younger Teens See Sexting as a Substitute for Real Sex. Retrieved April, 2016, from http://www.ibtimes.com.au/
Jaslow, R. (2012, September 17). Teens who “sext” more likely to have sex, study finds: What can parents do to buck trend? Retrieved April, 2016, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/